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Books for mother tongue education

In 1999, UNESCO decided to launch an International Mother Language Day (IMLD) to be observed throughout the world each year on 21 February. 

This celebration is designed to promote linguistic diversity and multilingual education, to highlight greater awareness of the importance of mother tongue education. 

Multilingualism is a source of strength and opportunity for humanity. It embodies our cultural diversity and encourages the exchange of views, the renewal of ideas and the broadening of our capacity to imagine.   

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General

Linguistic and cultural diversity represent universal values that strengthen the unity and cohesion of societies. That is why UNESCO’s Director-General, in launching IMLD 2013, will reinforce the importance of this core message and specifically highlight this year’s theme of access to books and digital media in local languages.

UNESCO’s Member States worldwide are key actors in the promotion of mother tongues through their national institutions and associations. The media, schools, universities and cultural associations play an active part in promoting the IMLD goals.

Using the slogan “Books for Mother tongue education”, IMLD 2013 aims to remind key stakeholders in education that in order to to support mother tongue education, it is essential to support the production of books in local languages.

The importance of written materials in mother tongues

Mother tongue education in its broader sense refers to the use of mother tongues in the home environment and in schools. Language acquisition and mother tongue literacy should ideally be supported by written resources such as - but not limited to - books, primers and textbooks, to support oral activities. Written materials in mother tongues reinforce learners’ literacy acquisition and build strong foundations for learning.

Today, a great number of languages lack a written form, yet progress has been made in developing orthography. Local and international linguists, educationalists, teachers work together with for example Indigenous peoples in Latin America, or tribes in Asia to develop orthography. The use of computers to produce books and the relatively low cost of digital printing are promising ways to produce cheaper written materials to enable wider access


Mother tongue education

UNESCO advocates for mother tongue instruction in a bilingual or multilingual education approach in the early years because of its importance in creating a strong foundation for learning: the use mother tongue with young children at home or in pre-school prepares them for the smooth acquisition of literacy in their mother tongue and eventually, the acquisition of the second (perhaps national) language at a later stage in their schooling.

UNESCO defines bilingual and multilingual education as “ the use of two or more languages as mediums of instruction. The Organization adopted the term ‘multilingual education’ in 1999 to refer to the use of at least three languages in education: the mother tongue; a regional or national language and an international language. 

The importance of mother tongue instruction in the early years of schooling is emphasized in the findings of studies, research and reports such as the annual UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report.


UNESCO is launching the IMLD celebration 2013 with an event at its Paris Headquarters on the theme of the Day: “Mother tongues and books - including digital books and textbooks”. The event is organized in collaboration with the Delegations to UNESCO of Hungary and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the 21st February is a commemoration in recognition of a historic campaign in 1952 to have Bangla recognized as a national language.

Experts in languages will highlight the contribution of mother tongues to the promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity, and the development of intercultural education through , for example, digital archives of the world languages.  

UNESCO will participate in a round table at the University of Evry (France), where the findings of a study, “What languages do students from the University of Evry speak?”, will be presented. University professors, students and linguists will address issues concerning languages and education. UNESCO will present its position on mother tongue instruction in a bilingual or multilingual education approach.

IMLD 2013 is linked to the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). UNESCO is organizing a session on cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content at WSIS on 26 February. The objective is to increase access to local educational content and related knowledge and information through the use of local languages in digital textbooks.



UNESCO Headquarters, Paris France

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Opening (10 a.m.) - Room IV

Chair: Ms Soo Choi, D/ED/PSD

  • Welcome remarks by Ms Katalin Bogyay, President of the General Conference, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Hungary to UNESCO
  • Speech by Mr M. Shahidul Islam, Ambassador of Bangladesh to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO 
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Moderator: Ms N. Andriamiseza, ED/PSD/PHR

  • ’Vernaculars in the Age of International English’: Mr Tibor Frank, Professor and Director, School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

  • Past, Present and Future of the Bangla Language’ : Mr Philippe Benoit, Professor of Bangla,  Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO), Paris, France;
  • ’Spirit of 21st February in Today’s Global Context’: Mr Tozammel Huq, former Special Adviser to the Director-General of UNESCO from 1993 to 1999
  •  ‘7000 languages: Promoting Linguistic Diversity and Education through Mother Tongues’ :  Mr Eric Cattelain, Expert in Intercultural Communication, Université de Bordeaux 3, France
  •  ‘Digital archive of the Languages of the World’: Mr Freddy Boswell, Executive Director, Summer Institute of Linguistics International 
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Question and answer session (11.30 a.m. )

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Musical performance by Baul Singers from Bangladesh

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Refreshments (1 p.m.)

Poster 2013

  • Download the Posters (PDF)

    EN | FR